By Lawrence Jordan
Apple took the wraps off its much awaited and latest version of Final Cut Pro, the company’s hi-end editing software last night at the Final Cut Pro User Group’s 10th annual NAB Supermeet confab at Bally’s Event Center in Las Vegas. For many, Final Cut Pro X will not disappoint. From its redesigned interface, (in line with the rest of the company’s professional apps) to its 64-bit rebuild, the software is packed with many new and incredibly inventive features that have the potential to fundamentally change the post production workflow, how editors work and in fact, the definition of what it means to be an editor.
First, the new features. I ask that you cut me some slack here as the hall was a bit of a madhouse and the presentations by current FCP chief architect Peter Steinauer and original FCP creator Randy Ubillos were fast, furious and loaded with new terms and descriptions of the software’s feature set. Also, keep in mind that what follows is in no way a complete list. A full review will come sometime in June when the software is slated to ship.
Enter Final Cut Pro X
Final Cut Pro X as it has been dubbed, starts out being a native 64-bit application and has been completely rebuilt from the ground up. This will take advantage of Apple’s 64-bit Snow Leopard operating system and the multi-core, multi-cpu hardware it runs on. Utilizing Snow Leopard’s Grand Central Dispatch technology, FCPX will process the latest, high resolution digital video files in real time, regardless of format. This means if your source material is a mix of SD, 1080, 2K and 4K they will play nice and run smoothly in the same sequence.
Clip Connections and a new Magnetic Timeline promise to help editors with a variety of workflow annoyances, from losing sync between audio and video clips to automatically bumping material to additional tracks when an overlap of clips would have previously made them collide and prevented one from making the edit.
Content Analysis and Media Detection technology will provide users with a powerful new toolset for organizing and “cleaning up” their footage before they start to cut. Traditionally done during or after the edit; floating, bumpy or shaky footage can now be stabilized upon ingest. This automatic image stabilization is coupled with the software’s new ability to analyze and make instant color corrections as material is imported into a project. Audio problems such as uneven levels or distortions will also benefit from this instant analysis and correction.
Shot Detection will indicate whether your shot is a close-up, medium or wide-shot and instantly add that information into the metadata. People Detection, something akin to the face recognition technology in iPhoto will allow you to name a face once and have it tracked and labeled throughout your project. Range Based Keywording will give one the ability to not only add keywords to individual takes or clips, but to in and out point, or “ranges” within clips. All of this can be organized using a new feature called Smart Collections, another feature out of iPhoto’s playbook where tagged material is automatically organized into bins by keywords.
These new features will automate and expedite the many processes that editors and assistant editors initially go through to organize their footage before the editing process begins. Considering the volume of source material digital cinematography technologies have enabled production crews to produce, editors cutting things like reality television shows, documentaries and other footage intensive projects will find these kind of features heaven sent.
Now a few observations and questions about fundamental changes to the editing interface. The “source/record” metaphor is one that professional editors in feature film and television post-production have used with one technology or another for nearly a century, or since the craft came into being. With this latest incarnation of Final Cut Pro, Apple appears to have adopted some UI elements, which will be familiar to those who have used the company’s free editing software iMovie. One is the filmstrip metaphor. For those unfamiliar, this is where your clip is represented by a filmstrip of frames that represent the length of a clip in the “viewer” (or source) window. They’ve also adopted iMovie’s “handle” metaphor for selecting sections, or “in and out” points of a source clip for inclusion in the edited sequence. Being a professional editor working in motion pictures and television since the start of the digital editing revolution, I can firmly state this is not a UI metaphor that the big guns in Hollywood are familiar or comfortable with.
So what does this mean to the editors of professional feature films and television?
I guess you’ve got to ask the question, can you teach old dogs new tricks? Well, I hope so. But the bigger question is will they want to be taught? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say “no” and go further out by guessing that with 10 years of hindsight, I don’t think this was a major factor in Apple’s redesign of FCP.
At the beginning of last nights presentation, Steinauer displayed a graph of Final Cut Pro’s explosive growth over the last 12 years. Check out this amazing fact; there are now nearly two million copies of FCP in the hands of editors, aspiring editors and others with an increasingly growing number of reasons to create dynamic media for themselves, their businesses and organizations. Additionally, FCP is growing at a rate of 15% as compared to 7% for the entire non-linear editing market.
For a long time there has been a battle between Apple and the usual suspects (Avid, Adobe) for the hearts and minds of the professional editing community. Since the ascension of FCP and with only few exceptions this group has been dominated by Avid Technology’s Media Composer systems and software.
But Apple didn’t get where they are today (as of Q4 2010 the third largest company in the world by market cap) by being short sighted. The bottom line is that this high-end, professional market is an incredibly small (and shrinking) fraction in relation to the new market Apple clearly sees emerging. This rapidly growing group is a new generation of digital media creators, born into a world with a vastly higher level of digital media literacy.
So now I think we have at least a partial answer to the question I asked last July, whether Apple is ceding the high-end digital editing market to Avid. I would venture to say yes, and no. Apple is aiming FCPX at the people who are, and will be creating not only the movies and television of the future, but a plethora of new types of content for platforms, devices and distribution outlets, many of which have not even been invented yet. They might not get those with deeply ingrained habits, but if others don’t enter the fray, Apple will dominate the space and create the new model for the near future and beyond.